by Bruce Walker
In a news briefing Monday afternoon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer introduced newly appointed Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Hertel.
However, she declined to answer questions from reporters regarding the abrupt departure of former MDHHS Director Robert Gordon late last week.
Among the questions that didn’t get a direct response was an inquiry seeking to know whether Whitmer had asked for Gordon’s resignation.
Noting that Gordon had worked during a “grueling couple of years” and that he “worked hard” in his position as director, she shed no further light on his departure.
Whitmer was also reticent regarding allowing contact sports to resume, stating she and her administration are closely watching the numbers associated with the variant strain of COVID-19. Because the variant strain is more contagious, the governor stated, she could not give a definitive answer.
The governor dedicated much of the news conference to a discussion on food assistance for Michigan residents during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our philosophy is that no one should have to worry about putting food on the table for their families – especially during a pandemic,” Whitmer said in a statement.
“Michiganders need access to nutritious food to keep them healthy so they can succeed in the economy and realize their dreams, and so their children can excel in school and achieve their full potential,” she continued.
The governor noted Michigan took action last spring to ensure free and reduced-price lunches were available to students during forced school closures. She added that the state increased monthly food assistance to families; increased online access to food for families receiving benefits; and provided food benefits to eligible college students through a MDDHS partnership with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.
According the governor, one in eight Michigan residents received food assistance as of fiscal year 2019. Last week, Whitmer announced her Michigan COVID Recovery Plan, which would increase food assistance support.
“Every day MDHHS staff in local offices from Southeast Michigan to the Upper Peninsula work to provide residents with access to food through SNAP benefits,” Hertel said in a prepared statement.
“It’s one of the most important things our department does. Our staff stepped up without missing a beat during difficult circumstances and met the increased need for food assistance that was created by the pandemic – even while our employees adjusted to working remotely to keep everyone safe.”
Michigan’s Food Assistance Program jumped from 1.2 million people receiving $137 million in benefits in February 2020 to 1.5 million residents receiving more the $263 million in food benefits. The current number of Michigan residents receiving food assistance has dropped below 1.3 million.
MDHHS has implemented a 15% increase in food assistance through federal monies provided by the recently enacted Coronavirus Relief Act, which amounts to $102 additional assistance per month for households of four individuals for the next six months.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.